A friend of mine told me yesterday that she got “bellwether” as her “word of the day” from a calendar that she loves, and she bet I already knew what it meant, but it was a new word to her. I did indeed know the term, and to us, it’s personal.
The term is derived from the Middle English bellewether and refers to the practice of placing a bell around the neck of a castrated ram (a wether) leading his flock of sheep. The movements of the flock could be noted by hearing the bell before the flock was in sight. from Wikipedia
We only have one wether in our flock, and his name is Leon. He’s 3/4 Shetland and 1/4 Icelandic and we got him with a flock of Shetland sheep who needed a home. When we got rid of them, we kept him, and I’ve been glad we did all the time. He’s the best. From the first day we got him, he’s been in charge of the sheep, even when he didn’t know us at all, had just been kidnapped and brought some place new.
He doesn’t wear a bell, but he doesn’t need one. If he needs something from us, he calls out. We’ve learned over the years that he only calls us when it’s something important. We don’t ignore him. Today, there was a lamb caught in a fence. Before we had the Pyrs, he’d tell us if the coyotes were howling, or once there was a moose trying to woo Misty the llama. He’s got an impressively deep and distinctive voice. If I hear him, I must go investigate. The one time I ignored him was in the middle of a thunderstorm and we thought he was just upset at the lightening and it turned out a ram was tangled in the electric fence. He died. So even if it’s really an inconvenient time, one of us goes to investigate.
He doesn’t really have a sense of proportion, though. He hates it when we do bonfires. No matter how many times I tell him it’s okay, he disagrees and insists on informing me loudly and insistently that THERE IS A FIRE! He makes all the other sheep stay far away from whatever side the bonfire is on. They can’t even come be pet because THERE IS A FIRE! Sometimes he looks at me like I am just really slow and stupid. I tell him that I understand what he’s saying but it’s okay, and we start back over on square one. STUPID HUMAN. FIRE!
Not only is he smart, he’s also really friendly. He’s getting old — he was born in 2001. He’s starting to get quite gray around his face, and he’s definitely slowing down. But unlike old rams who often get picked on by the younger boys, Leon’s been the boss forever and no one challenges him. I hope he lives for a lot longer. He’s my buddy.